Sunday, April 27, 2014

Raggedy Ann

The Original Raggedy Ann
I was 10 years old when I started in Miss Bohn’s fifth grade class. One of the favorite things about her class was listening to her read books. We read Snow Treasure, some selections from The Jungle Book, Heidi, The Cat in the Hat, Angel Unaware and Raggedy Ann.  At ten years of age my thoughts regarding some of the books were, yeah they are girl’s books.  

But school was a microcosm of real life, because in later life we had to watch ‘chick flicks’ with our spouses and girl friends.

Ginny Bohn had a soothing voice. For forty-five minutes or so in the afternoon it was delightful to listen to stories about the fight between a valiant mongoose and a cobra or how Norwegian children whisk away gold bars right under the eyes of the invading Nazis.

However when she read Raggedy Ann I always got a little misty, because she told us the story behind the doll and the books.

Raggedy Ann as we know her today
Raggedy Ann was written by Johnny Gruelle from stories that he made up for his daughter, Marcella.

Gruelle made his living as an illustrator for the works of other well known writers of his era. In his era, he was also widely known for a comic strip that he wrote and illustrated.

One of the authors that he was fond of was James Whitcomb Riley. Riley was called The Hoosier Poet, because he wrote his verse in Hoosier dialect. Although he never had children, most all of his poems were considered children’s poems.

There were two of Riley’s poems that impressed Gruelle. One was called The Raggedy Man and the other was called Little Orphant Annie. Both poems were about chore people that were hired by families to do menial jobs around their homes or farms.  Riley was self taught and made much of his money traveling the country putting on shows reading his poems and selling books.

Gruelle’s young daughter’s prize possession was a rag doll that had red hair made of yarn and a triangle for a nose. Gruelle drew a face on the doll and told the girl epics about the doll’s adventures. Later on Raggedy Andy was added to the story. Marcella was only nine years old when her father began making up these stories about her rag doll.  By 1915 he started writing these ideas down in a book. By 1918 Raggedy Ann Stories was published. Tragically before the book hit the stores, Marcella Grulle died at the age of 13.

Authorities believed the young girl’s death was from anundiagnosed heart defect.  However shortly before she died Marcella was given the smallpox vaccine at her school without her parent’s permission. We will never know if she died from the vaccine or not. We can only question whether the vaccine exacerbated a pre-existing condition.

How bittersweet it is that Raggedy Ann became successful at a time when the rag doll’s playmate was foever taken away. And how ironic is it that a candy heart was sewn into Raggedy Ann.

Gruelle never got over the death of his beloved daughter and blamed the doctors and her immunization for her death.

He drew this bittersweet memorial in his comic strip Mr. Twee-Deedle

At the time, no one knew about this event. Book sales were doing well and the handmade Raggedy Ann dolls caught the eye of Gruelle’s publisher. P.F. Voland.  Voland cease business in 1935, yet the dolls continued to be made by toy maker Exposition Dolls, without the author’s permission.

The book’s rights were passed from P.F. Voland to The Johnny Grulle Company to Bobbs Merill to MacMillan Publishing.

Johnny Gruelle passed away in 1937 at age 57.  At the time, Grulle’s son, Worth was only 17 but he continued writing the Raggedy Ann stories. In fact it turned into a family business. Worth, his wife Suzanne and brother Richard all worked on the stories and illustrations. In all, the family turned out 50 books.

The Original Books were from 1918

As of 2011 the 75 year old Worth Gruelle was spending his time between his farm in Cashiers North Carolina and a winter home in Florida. He still answers letters from curious children. His father used to sign his letter as Uncle Johnny.

Worth Gruelle’s son, Kim, runs a doll store in Cashiers, North Carolina.

There is even a college scholarship from Washington College in Chestertown Maryland named in honor of the dolls and their stories.

Marcella perhaps is forgotten, except by those of us that know the story of Raggedy Ann.

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